~~ Forsaken ~~

by TJ

PREVIOUS STORIES - #1 - The South Wind, #2 - Confidantes and Confidences

SPOILERS – This story picks up where ‘Confidantes’ left off. Some minor hints at ‘LadyKillers’ and ‘Serpents’. Continued hints at events in ‘The South Wind’. After all, that’s why they call it a series.

WRITER’S NOTES – Every story in this series has its own focus, yet there is always the end result to consider. There is a purpose for most everything I write. If you remember that one simple sentence, it will help you decipher my entire series. And you’ll probably enjoy it a whole lot more too.

My thanks once again to Antoinette for her beta skills and guidance.

The aches and pains he had experienced on their outbound trip seemed to be disappearing, just as Mr. Jackson had indicated they would. Standish watched the healer from the rear of their small party, as they entered Four Corners and made their way down to the livery. He smiled at the man and again, silently thanked the lord for his blessings.

As they approached the stables they could see Josiah riding in from the other end of town.

"Thought Chris was doin’ the noon rounds while we were gone?" Wilmington commented suspiciously.

"Thought so too," responded the healer. He instinctively looked around to see if he could spot the two missing peacekeepers. Nothing seemed to bother these men more than a change in their agreed schedule.

"Well, well … the wandering lambs have returned to their flock," the preacher announced with a big smile, as they all came to a stop at the livery. He dismounted and studied the other four men carefully, as they got off their horses and unfastened their saddlebags.

"Everythin’ all right in town Josiah?" the lady’s man questioned. "Chris ain’t got you doin’ all the patrols... has he?"

The preacher’s broad, toothy smile swept across his face as he considered the thought. Taking orders from Larabee was one thing. Letting the man run rough shod over him was another.

"Just done a little rearrangin’ is all. Suppose we’ll have ta do it all over again seeing as you’s all back."

"Perhaps we can negotiate a twenty four hour pardon from our appointed rounds," Standish quipped as he handed his horse off to Yosemite. "I suddenly feel my discomfort becoming acute."

"Just a day Ezra," Nathan jokingly asked out loud. "Good lord man, you must be getting’ betta quicker than I thought."

The healer tapped the gambler on his good shoulder as Yosemite took his horse. He had learned long ago when each of these men were really hurting and when they were just acting up. This was a good sign from the southerner. He really was starting to heal nicely.

For his part, Ezra just raised an eyebrow at Jackson’s remark and turned his attentions to the preacher as the blacksmith retrieved Josiah’s horse.

"And just where might our other two associates be Mr. Sanchez?"

"And how’s JD doin’?" Nathan added.

Josiah smiled and motioned towards the street. The four men followed him as Yosemite relieved Wilmington and Tanner of their mounts.

"I do believe we might find them at the jail."

"Trouble?" asked the tracker quickly.

"Nope," the preacher noted as he patted the smaller man on the shoulder.

"Found ‘em there yesterday when I came back. Afternoon before too."

"Doin’ what," Jackson inquired curiously.

The preacher grinned and cocked his head.

"Seems our John Dunne has finally found something he can do to entertain Chris Larabee."

Wilmington stopped dead in his tracks and looked back at the trailing preacher. Tanner, Jackson and Standish followed Buck’s lead. The three men watched the preacher’s smile widen and then Buck’s inquisitive expression changed to a familiar ‘Yeah, … Right!’ look.

"And just what might that be Josiah?" The lady’s man knew Dunne had a tendency to get on Larabee’s nerves with all his youthful attributes in play. Even when the kid was being ‘grown up’, he still had to watch his step sometimes.

Sanchez just smirked, raised an eyebrow and tilted his head to one side as he motioned towards the door of the sheriff’s office.

Buck’s expression was now one of challenging determination as he turned to finish the final few steps to the jailhouse. Somehow, the other men knew Wilmington was about to piss the gunslinger off something awful. Or at least he’d give it a good try. They each hesitated momentarily trying to decide if they should follow, or hide.

"Well, hell…" the tracker whispered softly. "This ought’a be good." He smiled, shook his head and followed anyway.

"Welcome home gentlemen," Standish added as he motioned for Sanchez and Jackson to joined the rest of the seven.

Two days earlier JD had asked Chris if he knew how to play checkers. Larabee had shied away from the memories that quickly flooded his mind. He’d always enjoyed the game, and had taught Adam how to play as soon as he was able to understand the concept. The gunslinger hadn’t played since his son’s death.

Dunne had sensed his leader’s faltering concentration when he inquired about a game. Knowing better than to press a topic when the gunslinger reacted this way, JD had immediately dropped the subject. To the kid’s surprise, Chris found him about an hour later and accepted the young man’s challenge. The game they were currently engaged in was their sixth, and Larabee was actually enjoying himself.

Enjoying himself enough to lighten the mood a little. Having seen the four riders return, JD had suggested a little ruse. The gunslinger had warned the kid about how suspicious Wilmington might be, but Dunne never willingly gave up an opportunity to ‘put one over’ on Buck.

Neither Larabee nor Dunne flinched as Wilmington entered the room boisterously and stood over the desk. JD wasn’t sure how long he could ignore the big man with the suspicious look in his eyes. He did know he was having a hard time trying not to smile though. The kid slowly looked across at Chris and smirked as he reached down to move a game piece. Jumping three of the gunslinger’s pieces, he took his opponent’s fallen men and looked back at Larabee.

"King me," he requested proudly. His smile was wide and mischievous.

Chris looked indignant as he actioned the kid’s request. He glanced at his last remaining game piece, and raised his hands in surrender.

"Looks like you got me again JD. That makes twelve games in a row doesn’t it?"

"Sure does Chris."

"All right … that’s enough." The lady’s man leaned over the table placing his large hands on either side of the game board.

"Don’t know who you figure your foolin’ with this little act of yours."

"What act?" Dunne piped up rather incensed by the accusation. He got to his feet and looked at the big man.

"Buck, you been out in the sun too long. Chris and I was just havin’ a little friendly game…"

"Of Checkers…"

"Yeah, checkers. What wrong with that?" The kid put his hands on his hips and waited for an answer while the lady’s man searched for one. Wilmington was obviously caught off guard and the desperation was clear on his face.

A sudden snicker from Standish caused Buck to face the men standing behind him. The four were obviously enjoying the performance, but tried to hide their amusement from the big man’s stare.

Trying to let the kid have his fun, Larabee had busied himself putting the game pieces in a small box and was now finished. He got to his feet with the box and board in hand, and secured them on the bookshelf beside the gun rack. He turned to face his oldest friend, but decided to talk to the kid instead.

"Can I try again tomorrow JD?"

"Sure Chris. But I ain’t gonna take it easy on ya now, just because you lost a few games."

"And you … what … forgot how to play?" the lady’s man questioned his oldest friend sarcastically. No matter how much they kept up the ploy, he wasn’t falling for it.

"I guess I have," he slapped Wilmington on the shoulder and sat on the edge of the desk.

More snickering from the door momentarily distracted Buck from Chris’ attention and that gave the gunslinger time to move back to business.

"So … everything go smoothly?" he asked as he looked around at the four men. Larabee could see that Tanner, Jackson and Standish were still trying to hide their amusement as they tried to nod their heads. He turned his attention back to Wilmington.

"Any problems?"


"And Tanner managed to keep a low profile," he asked looking back at the tracker. He’d been concerned about Vin’s safety since the four had left more than a week ago. Outwardly, of course he had remained cool and put his faith in his men.

Wilmington smiled as he recognized the opportunity he had been searching for.


"Mostly?" The gunslinger looked at his oldest friend with due caution. This kind of answer was why the ‘faith in his men’ usually didn’t hold much water.

"Vin … pretty much … kept a low profile," he walked to the tracker and put his arm around the smaller man before heading for the door.

"… Pretty … much?" Larabee questioned cautiously as he got to his feet. He was beginning to not like the way the conversation was going. There were days when he reckoned he was dealing with a group of schoolboys rather than a collection of grown men sworn to protect a community. The fact that he had just agreed to be part of one of those games now completely slipped his mind.

Standish and Tanner immediately realized where Wilmington was headed with his response and slowly edged themselves towards the door as well.

"Yeah," Buck replied as he stood in the doorway. "As long as you … don’t count the royalty thing..."

And with that he was gone. Tanner snickered loudly, and followed quickly behind, while Standish shook his head and tipped his hat to his leader before he too abruptly disappeared.

Caught off guard by the nature of Wilmington’s answer, Larabee looked questioningly at the preacher and then at Jackson. He raised his eyebrows requesting an explanation, and got a pair of raised hands in reply.

"Oh no…" Nathan responded as he shook his head. "I ain’t gonna get myself any deeper inta this than I already am." He moved to the door, then looked at the three men in the room.

"Just cause I was … accompanying the ‘prince’ on his travels, don’t mean I had anythin’ ta do with planning the trip," Jackson muttered quickly as he left the office.

Three very stunned and confused peacekeepers stood looking out an open door.

Larabee was leaning against the doorway of the sheriff’s office watching the town as it slowly prepared for the end of the day. Wilmington caught the gunslinger’s eye as he met up with Tanner in the middle of the street and began talking.

"Just what do you suppose all that nonsense was about earlier?" the preacher asked as he peered over his book. He had been trying to relax in the chair out front, but had sensed his leader’s sudden annoyance.

Chris looked at Sanchez sarcastically.

"Stupid question! …I know." Josiah cocked his head and held up a hand in surrender. Larabee had no better idea about what had gone on, any more than he did. He considered his fellow peacekeepers as they walked towards the saloon and then disappeared from view.

"Pardon the pun…" he glanced at the gunslinger and smiled.

"But I’m puttin’ my money on Ezra … Those two are just enjoying the show. Standish is the one who wrote the play."

Chris looked at the preacher intently as he thought on his words. Josiah wasn’t beyond the occasional practical joke himself, but his senior status amongst the seven usually prevailed. Of all of his men, Larabee could rely on the preacher to be a level head when he needed one.

"Well, … you’re probably right about that Josiah, but…" Chris conceded as he straightened up and turned to go back inside.

"Sure would like to know who in their right mind, would mistake Vin Tanner for a prince though," he mumbled as he went inside.

Sanchez chuckled at the words and shook his head. Then I wasn’t hearing things he thought to himself as he looked about town. He smiled as he spied Jackson and JD as they walked towards the saloon and disappeared inside. Didn’t take Nathan long he considered. Always lookin’ out for his patients. The preacher adjusted his new book and tried once again to read it.

"Are you going to open that thing or just play with it?" the preacher asked of Wilmington.

The lady’s man folded the envelope he was holding and stuffed it in his pocket. He looked at Sanchez and managed a small smile.

Josiah bowed his head briefly

"You didn’t open the other two either… did you?"

Wilmington shook his head as he turned towards the edge of town and searched for the noon stagecoach. Not seeing anything, he slowly walked toward the building and leaned against the hitchin’ post.

"She’s just asking me ta go and be with her."

"You don’t know that fer sure until you read the letter. Besides … ain’t that what folks do when they're suppose ta be engaged?"

Buck lowered his head.

"I can’t leave Josiah… I made a promise." He glanced up quickly before bowing his head.

Sanchez pulled his coat collar up against the coldness of the wind and smiled at the images going through his mind. April had seen a pretty young woman come to town and literally sweep Buck off of his feet. The suggestion of marriage had seemed so uncharacteristic, that none of them had believed Wilmington at first. Before Louisa Perkins left she had accepted the proposal, but on the condition that Buck join her on the road. Not especially liking the idea of being transient again, particular on someone else’s schedule, the lady’s man had been thinking on the idea ever since.

When another young lady had come into town barely five weeks later, she had succeeded in changing all of their lives forever. The preacher didn’t know the exact details, but he’s surmised that Buck had made some sort of agreement with that young lady too. It seemed to be a completely different kind of promise than that of a marriage proposal, but Buck’s reactions seemed to suggest that it might be more important.

"So what this telegram say again?" Buck asked, obviously changing the subject.

"Well," Josiah began. He knew better than to try and press a topic when another wasn’t willing to discuss it further. He looked towards the edge of town and then turned back toward the lady’s man.

"The judge gave us a brief description of a man who’s been… asking too many questions." He nodded his head. "Yeah, that’s how he put it."

"Questions about us?"


"And this fella was from New York City."


Wilmington stood up straight and took a couple of steps before cocking his head towards the preacher.

"Now how’d you figure a fella from New York heard about us?"

Sanchez was about to answer…

"And why the hell would them fancy folks in a big city like that care anyways?"

The preacher smiled at the questions. They were exactly the same questions John Dunne had asked three days ago when the wire came in.

"Don’t know for sure brother," Josiah commented before gazing north once again.

"Judge Travis just figured it would be in our best interest if we kept an eye out for this gentleman and … perhaps … sent him packing before he can get off the stage."

Buck was thinking over his questions in his own mind. Scratching the back of his neck as he customarily did when he was ‘thinkin’, he turned to the preacher.

"Ya know when we was in Ridge City sheriff Baxter mentioned that he’d read about us in a paper from Eagle Bend."

The preacher considered the information and rubbed his chin.

"Well that doesn’t surprise me. Mrs. Travis is always writing articles." He smiled at the thought. "There are times when we’re the only news-worthy thing around these parts."

Wilmington too smiled at the thought. If the seven weren’t getting other folks out of trouble they were usually finding some of their own, in one form or another. Chris was right about their antics sometimes. Buck shook his head and laughed a little.

"And I suppose when the stage stops here for a few hours layover, people are inclined to pick up the local paper … and maybe even take it with ‘em to read on the ride. Don’t seem unreasonable that word gets around about us." The preacher concluded his statement and turned at the sound of the stage in the distance.

"Let’s just watch the folks that decide to stay awhile," he moved back towards the stage office as the coach approached.

"Yeah," Buck agreed as he too backed up.

Jackson looked up as Buck and Josiah came in to the sheriff’s office and quickly closed the door behind them. The wind was a lot colder today than it had been all fall and everyone seemed to be noticing it.

"Still readin’?" the preacher asked as he moved towards the stove. The lady’s man was close behind.

"There’s some stuff in ‘ere I ain’t never heard about. It’s a new edition. Says they learned a whole lotta stuff durin’ the war and these are some of the new ways of doin’ things."

"Uncanny, ain’t it?" the preacher commented.

Nathan looked at Sanchez for an answer and then up at Buck. Wilmington shrugged his shoulders and rubbed his hands together over the stove. He knew Josiah was about to say something philosophical and he wanted no part of it. Sometimes he had a hard enough time understanding regular people. Josiah in one of those moods … no, he didn’t care to comment at all.

"How’s that?" the healer inquired. He figured he might as well ask. Josiah was going to tell them anyway.

"How the most extraordinary of circumstances, produces the most extraordinary results."

"You think the war was… extraordinary?" Wilmington questioned, obviously a little overwhelmed by the statement.

Sanchez could see the puzzled look on Nathan’s face as he turned back to answer Buck’s question.

"Extraordinary," he stated bluntly as he turned away from the stove. "It’s a word that has many meanings brothers. It can mean inconceivable as well a strange… Never accept that an uncommon word has only one purpose. A word like that … well it just suits this particular circumstance perfectly. Simply put… some good usually comes from the bad."

Nathan looked at the preacher then down at his new book. He smiled.

"So many different ways ta die, they had ta come up with a few new ways ‘a healing folks so they didn’t lose so many men."

"Adversity and necessity often make strange bed fellows."

"I’ll agree with that," Nathan concluded as he closed the book and stood to get himself a cup of coffee.

"Where’d you get the book anyway?" Wilmington asked. He could see the object of their discussion on the desk, but he didn’t recognize it.

The healer warmed his hands on his cup and took a sip before answering.

"Came the day after you left."

"Special delivery addressed to one Doctor Nathan Jackson. Straight from New York City," added the preacher as he too poured himself a cup of coffee.

"There’s that name again. New York City," Buck looked at the preacher questioningly. The curiosity was clear in his voice. "What’s that all about anyway?"

"This is a mystery too!" the healer added as he flipped open the cover of the book.

Buck wandered over and glanced at the publication. Written on the cover page, in an elegant handwriting script were eight words.

~~ Thank You

for the life of my niece ~~

The lady’s man frowned as he glanced at Jackson and then at Josiah.

"Don’t look at us brother. We’ve been trying ta figure it out for a week now."

"Yeah," agreed the healer. "I’d say it came to the wrong place except it was clearly addressed ta me. I don’t know no one in New York City, and I think I’d remember if I treated someone who came from there."

"Came from where?" Dunne questioned as he came in.

"New York City," Buck responded.

"Oh they was tellin’ ya about this fancy book, ha," he quipped as he closed the front cover and picked it up. "Makes a good paperweight though."

Jackson set down his coffee and retrieved his new possession.

"Show some respect JD. This book may help heal someone you know."

Dunne’s expression changed as he realized that his jokes didn’t belong in this situation.

"Sorry Nathan. I didn’t mean no harm."

"Saving lives ain’t nothing ta joke about JD," the healer responded. "You, of all people, should know that by now."

Comprehending the irony in what Jackson was saying, the kid nodded his head.

"Where’s Chris?" Wilmington asked trying to change the subject yet again. He was still more than a little uncomfortable with the doubts and fears that reared their ugly head both times the kid had faced death.

"Ain’t seen him since this morning," Dunne replied.

"Think he said somethin’ about checkin’ out his place. He ain’t been out there since before you left."

Wilmington acknowledged the report with a nod of his head.

"Well I think I’ll just head on over ta the saloon and see what Inez is fixin’ up for eats today."

"Hey, that sounds like a good idea Buck," JD responded.

"Oh no you don’t," Jackson put in. "You’re here to relieve me, remember."

Dunne looked disgruntled as he watched Wilmington and the healer move to the door and leave. He’d missed Buck’s company while they had been gone and was hoping to spend some more time catching up.

"Do you want me ta bring ya somethin’ back," the preacher offered as he followed the other two peacekeepers to the door.

JD shook his head, no!

"All right then," Josiah said as he smiled and bid the young man goodbye.

Looking around at the now empty room, the kid grumpily sat in the chair, pulled a dime novel from his pocket and began to read.

Martin Haynes sat straight up in his bed and looked around the small room frantically trying to find out what had woken him up. The agitated horse sounds coming from the corral spurred him in to action. Lydia sat up and looked at her husband worriedly as he donned his pants and grabbed the rifle off of the wall above the dresser.

"Stay here," he ordered as she started to get out of bed.


She was interrupted as their eldest child came into the room. He had heard the noise, and was clearly worried.

"What is it Pa?"

"I don’t know Cody. Stay in the house with yer Ma until I find out."

"Martin," she called again as she put on her robe and shoes. He turned to look at his wife as she stood by the cradle. He gave her a reassuring smile.

"Be careful."

He nodded his head as he walked out of the bedroom and through the kitchen to the side entrance. Double-checking the chamber of his weapon, he grabbed some more shells from the cabinet high on the wall. He shook his head once more time to clear any leftover cobwebs, then slowly opened the door. After checking for any signs of intruders, he moved outside, and secured the door behind him.

Haynes could hear his animals signaling their fear, but he couldn’t tell what it was they were afraid of. After allowing his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness, he moved cautiously around to the front of the house and looked towards the corral.

He could make out his three horses in one enclosure, and the milk cows in the other. They were all quite restless, yet there was no obvious sign of intruders. Martin was about to move towards the barn when he heard the chickens in the hen house explode into a frenzy.

He quickly turned his attention to the smaller building beside the barn. He had built the structure last year to house his workshop. They had looked for a property that had more than one barn, but were unable to find something suitable. Lydia had liked the layout of the house here, so they decided this would be their new home. Building the workshop was easy work for the carpenter, and adding the chicken coop on the side was just a little extra work.

Haynes could hear what sounded like growling and animals fighting. Wolves Maybe! he thought. He cussed himself for locating the workshop so close to the barn. There were too many shadows and very little space to maneuver should be faced with a pack.

He took a couple of steps closer as the chickens started to quiet down. He surmised that they were all either dead or dying. Damn! Another step and he fired his rifle in the air twice. He listened to the animals fighting then the scurry of feet. There had definitely been more than one or two. He listened intently for anymore sounds.

"Martin," Lydia called out from the front doorway. The worry in her voice was clear.


The man glanced back at his wife and son for just a second before cocking his head.

"I told you two to stay in the house," he called out gruffly. "Get back inside … someone’s coming."

He listened as the horse got closer, then moved around to the other side of the house when he pinpointed the direction the rider was approaching from. He aimed his rifle at the shadow that appeared out of the darkness.

"Who’s there?"

"Take it easy Mr. Haynes. It’s Chris Larabee … I heard shots."

Martin lowered his rifle and offered up a small smile. If people around these parts hadn’t actually met the man, they’d at least heard of Chris Larabee. Opinions were definitely divided on whether he and his men were good or bad for the locals, but the seven men always seemed to be around when folks were in trouble. Now Martin Haynes understood that simple fact all too clearly.

"Mr. Larabee … yes … that was me. Scared off some wolves I think." He indicated to the direction of the barn.

"Not sure how many of my chickens they ran off with though. I was just gonna check it out."

"Mind if I tag along?"

"No, … please." The relief in the man’s answer was clear.

The gunslinger got down from his horse and approached the carpenter.

"What are you doing out here so late at night Mr. Larabee?"

Chris thought it an odd question. He knew that most of the homesteaders around Four Corners had requested the patrols he and his men undertook. The Haynes family had only been here about eighteen months, but Martin usually attended the town meetings they had every couple of months.

"Main road’s just over yonder. You know we patrol every night."

"Yes, …" the man hesitated. "I just … didn’t realized you did any of the rounds yourself."

Larabee was a little taken aback by the statement, but lowered his head to hide his reaction.

"Well … now ya know," he said as they approached the workshop.

The gunslinger held his hand out to block the carpenter’s path. The two men stopped and looked at the damage in front of them. The wire around the pen had been mangled and stretched all out of shape while the hen house itself had been knocked off of its wooden foundation. Chicken remains were everywhere.

"How’s they get in?" Haynes asked as he surveyed the destruction.

Chris walked to the other end of the pen and pointed to the fence and the hole in the ground.

"Looks like they dug their way in … then probably ripped through the fence trying ta get out. They probably weren’t expecting gun shots."

"Pa," a small voice called out cautiously from the darkness.

"Cody," Haynes called back to his son. "It’s alright son. It’s just Mr. Larabee from town. You get yourself back inside now ... ya hear."

"Yes Pa," the boy replied. The disappointment was clear in his voice.

"Mr. Haynes," Chris moved to stand beside the carpenter. "I think it’s best you go back inside with your family. You scared ‘em off … I don’t think they’ll be back."

Martin looked back at the carnage and nodded his head.

"I suppose you’re right … not much we can do ‘til morning anyhow."

The gunslinger surveyed the chicken coop one more time as Martin turned towards the house. He stopped when Chris didn’t follow.

"Something wrong Mr. Larabee?"

Chris nodded his head and motioned for the man to continue back to the house as he joined him.

"I’m gonna have Vin Tanner come out first thing in the morning," he said as they walked.

"Can I get ya ta stay clear of the coop until he gets here?"

"What is it?" the man asked. It was obvious he didn’t understand what the gunslinger was getting at.

"Just a feelin’," he said quietly.

Now Martin Haynes had never had the opportunity to talk with Chris Larabee before, but he’d heard a lot of talk. He’d never really put a lot of stock in it though. His son was best friends with the young Travis boy, and Billy had conveyed his trust of Chris to Cody on more than one occasion. Martin had listened to the two children talk one day, and found clear contrasts between the ‘Chris’ Billy talked of and the ‘Larabee’ some of the other men complained about. He looked at the gunslinger questioningly, yet somehow he trusted the man’s judgement.

"Alright," he replied as he stood by the door.

Larabee smiled and tipped his hat.

"Thank you Mr. Larabee," Martin called out as the dark clad man mounted up disappeared into the darkness.

A dark horse and his equally dark rider slowly made their way down the street and pulled up outside the sheriff’s office. Briefly looking about town, Larabee dismounted and wrapped the reigns around the hitchin’ post. He stopped, looked thoughtfully towards the ground then smiled.

"How is it that you were only gone a week, and I missed yer sorry hide that much," he questioned into the darkness? The gunslinger shook his head and looked up at the roof of the jail. He stood motionless for several seconds as he awaited an answer.

"Thought it was nine days!"

Larabee shook his head and smiled again.

"Seen Buck?"

"Reckon he should be alone ‘bout now."

"Alright then," Chris moved back to his horse and took the reigns from the post. "I’m gonna turn in. You should do the same, I want ya ta ride out ta the Haynes place first thing in the mornin’."


"Could be…" Larabee thought on the chicken coop again. "Some animals hit their hen house a while ago."


"That’s what Martin Haynes said …" There was a pensive silence.

"You don’t think so?"

The gunslinger started to walk his horse towards the livery, but took one last look skyward.

"Just got a bad feelin’," he muttered as he wandered off towards the stable.

Tanner was laid out on the roof with his winter coat and bedroll to keep him warm. He cocked his head to the sound of the horse and rider walking down the street. He lowered his eyes for only a second before returning them to the heavens above his head. The absence of the moon only seemed to make the stars shine brighter, and Vin smiled as he considered the gunslinger’s words. Things ain’t never easy when Larabee gets a bad feelin’ he mused to himself. He would worry about that in the morning though, right now he had other things on his mind.

Down the street a man stood in the shadows of his second floor window and watched the tracker intently.

"That’s the third new moon in a row Mr. Tanner…" he whispered to himself curiously.

JD strolled down the boardwalk in his usual youthful way. It helped that the cooling weather had seemed to make breathing easier over the past few weeks, and as of yesterday Nathan had given him a clean bill of health. As he walked he tipped his hat to some of the townsfolk then spied Sanchez and three horses. The kid figured someone was getting ready to ride, so he quickly bounded across the street.

"Hey Josiah," he smiled. "What’s up?"

The preacher checked his saddle and turned to look at Dunne. He returned the smile.

"And a pleasant good morning to you brother."

"Where ya’ll headed this early in the morning?" the kid questioned again.

Sanchez watched Vin and Chris as they exited the jail then looked back at JD and frowned slightly.

"Chris has got a bad feelin’ about something that went on out at the Haynes place last night."

The kid looked horrified by the announcement. Even he understood about Chris’ bad feelings.

"Think I can tag along," he asked of Josiah. "Ezra’s taking over the watch from Buck."

"If ya hurry." The reply came from Tanner as he slapped the kid on the back. JD nodded his head and headed off towards the livery.

Sanchez watched Dunne depart and then looked back at Chris and smiled.

"Ah, the bountiful energy of youth."

Larabee shook his head and gave the preacher a sideways glance.

"Makes ya sick don’t it."

"Especially this early in the mornin’," Sanchez agreed with a smirk.

The tracker looked back and forth between his two friends and smiled that familiar Tanner smile.

"Well if you two old men figure you can keep up with us youngen’s," he quipped as he got on his horse.

The preacher and gunslinger exchanged a dirty look as they too mounted up.

"Your time will come brother. Your time will come," Josiah promised as he pointed his horse towards the livery and headed off.

Chris raised his eyebrows in Tanner’s direction as he settled himself on his horse and set off after the preacher.

"And I hope I meet it with just as much dignity and defiance as the two of you," Vin whispered to himself as he followed his friends.